crowded field

Cary Kennedy jumps into Colorado governor’s race, citing need to pay teachers “as professionals”

Cary Kennedy (Denver Post file).

The Democratic field of Colorado gubernatorial hopefuls is firming up — and education promises to play an outsized role in the race.

Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy on Monday announced her campaign for the 2018 election, following U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s launch event Sunday.

Neither development was a surprise. Both have long been considered contenders to replace Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is leaving office due to term limits.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston was an early Democratic entrant, announcing his bid in January. The former teacher, principal and architect of Colorado’s controversial teacher evaluation law last week touted an impressive first-quarter fundraising haul.

In a Facebook Live video announcing her candidacy, Kennedy focused heavily on education, which she described as the No. 1 issue of her campaign. The graduate of Denver’s Manual High School said she is frustrated by what she sees in public schools today.

“I want all our kids to be thinkers and creative problem-solvers, not just good test-takers,” Kennedy said, adding that she wants to pay teachers “as professionals.”

Kennedy is the author of Amendment 23, a constitutional provision that requires school funding to increase by inflation and enrollment growth every year. Lawmakers have used a legislative workaround, however, to deny schools what is coming to them under the amendment.

Kennedy also crafted the eight-year-old Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program, which funds school building replacements and repairs through a competitive grant process.

In a news release, Kennedy’s campaign also mentioned the importance of giving every child the chance to attend preschool and kindergarten, offering technical and professional courses to high-school students, and tackling college debt.

Johnston got his start in education policy after joining the Teach For America program, and became arguably the state’s best known promoter of education reform.

His leadership in overhauling the state’s teacher evaluation system in 2010 made him a popular target for teachers unions, a powerful constituency in the Democratic party. Johnston also was among those who championed 2013’s Amendment 66, a failed effort to pump $1 billion into the state’s schools.

Perlmutter’s education record is thinner than Johnston’s and Kennedy’s.

During his time as a state lawmaker, Perlmutter sponsored little education legislation, according to a review of the bills he sponsored between 1995 and 2002.

But Perlmutter has close ties to Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district, which is part of his congressional district.

Perlmutter attended Jeffco Public Schools, as did his children. His wife, Nancy, is a former Jeffco teacher. More recently, he supported the successful recall of three conservative Jefferson County school board members and championed a slate of candidates to replace them. The recall was heavily financed by the Jefferson County and state teachers unions.

Perlmutter joining the gubernatorial race caused other political dominos to fall. Democratic state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, chair of the House Education Committee, announced on Sunday that she would run for Perlmutter’s congressional seat in 2018. State Sen. Andy Kerr, a Jefferson County teacher, said he is also running for the seat.

The Democratic field for governor has come together quickly after former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he would not run. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, chairman of a House education subcommittee, also has said he is considering joining the field.

Entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, who heads a nonprofit organization that is set to launch a new youth apprenticeship system in Colorado this fall, has also announced his candidacy.

The Republican race for governor is still taking shape. George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District attorney, named education and transportation as his two top issues in announcing his candidacy last week.

Other possible GOP candidates include State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Kent Thiry, CEO of Denver-based DaVita HealthCare Partners. Thiry and his wife have contributed money to local charter schools, including DSST Public Schools and STRIVE Preparatory Schools.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.